Tuesday, 30 October 2012

"Everyone needs someone

to lean on sometimes" were the words at the end of a report by Karen Middleton on our SBS news service last night. She had been talking to army chaplains in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.
One of the chaplains had mentioned to her that he appreciated it when a soldier asked him, "You okay Padre?"
We expect people to be able to go on doing their jobs - whatever might be happening around them. That is what they are there for - everyone from the cleaner sweeping the floor and the checkout person in the supermarket to the teacher, the doctor, bus driver, mechanic etc etc.
Nobody is supposed to get sick - ever. They are supposed to be there for us when we need them. It is human nature to expect that.
I know that, out in the field, aid workers rely heavily on each other. If one of them goes down for any reason they all feel it. Lives can depend on it. You cannot afford to be ill - or, sometimes, even tired. You cannot make major mistakes. All sorts of things can go wrong so it is as important to be there for each other as the people you are trying to help.
And it is the same in the armed forces. I have always thought that there are two groups of people in the armed forces who have a particularly hard time of it - the medical staff and the spiritual staff.  Their roles always seem to be a contradiction in terms to me.
As Karen Middleton pointed out, like the rest of Australian society, many of the men  the Padre deals with are "not religious". He tells them he is "not religious" either. He's not interested in "religion". He's there for them. He's there to listen if they want to talk.
He's there to see grown men and women cry.
When my father was appointed to a very big school in the middle of a soldier settlement we, as children, saw grown men cry on ANZAC Day and on Remembrance Day. I answered the phone once and heard a very young voice saying, "My Dad is trying to kill my Mum". His Dad was too. His Dad had finally had what is loosely terms as a "mental breakdown". They got him to hospital. His wife kept the farm going in his absence. He eventually recovered enough to return but it was a tough time for them. The local priest was there for them - and many others - although they did not always go to church...and some of the men called him "Padre".
I wonder now who he talked to and who other people in his position talk to.  "Padres" are people too.

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